Interview with Deviant Ollam: The Godfather of Locksport

Locksport

With over a decade of experience, nobody in locksport has the credentials nor experience like Deviant Ollam, the creator of the famous “Lockpick Village.” He has been cracking locks and teaching others how to do it all over the world since the very first ShmooCon in 2005. Read further to see what makes this mastermind the true godfather of locksport!”

Q: Let’s start this interview off by telling us a about yourself Deviant Ollam. What do you do for a living, and how are you involved with the Locksport community?

“I am a partner at The CORE Group, a security consulting and penetration firm that specializes in the physical sector. While we work jobs across the whole security landscape, our specialties are physical penetration, site threat evaluation, with firearms/combatives thrown in on the side. As a good friend of mine likes to say: basically, we’re professionally dangerous. 😉
This work came about when I and another individual, Babak Javadi, were both working in the infosec and security world separately, but simultaneously sharing an interest and passion for locks and physical access controls. We met through our work with TOOOL (The Open Organisation of Lockpickers). We decided to join forces and bring The CORE Group—which was initially solely his firm—to new levels.

I am one of the longest serving board members of TOOOL. I have had the reward of overseeing its growth to more and more chapters, shepherding us to 501(c)3 nonprofit status, and bringing the “Lockpick Village” concept to multiple conferences and events around the world.”

Q: What got you into lock picking?

“I was always interested in locks (interested in all tools and hardware, for that matter) from a young age. I was the kid who always took apart items that I owned, no matter how expensive or complex, because I wanted to see how they functioned and what made them tick. At times, it even allowed me to change features or service them in case of failure. Television shows that touched on lockpicking (“I, Spy” and “MacGyver” come to mind) and that, of course, brings with it more curiosity… but learning about this topic was not always as easy as it is now. Books were less widespread, industry types didn’t want to talk to outsiders, and I had yet to discover the wider hacker scene.

Attending events like HOPE and DEF CON in the early years were the turning point for me. These were the first few times I was able to witness lockpicking (not fictionally on TV or in film, but live and in the flesh) and directly engage with the presenters afterward. Two speakers come to mind more than any others: Barry Wels and Mike Glasser. Barry, as a representative (and indeed the founder) of Dutch-based TOOOL demonstrated to all in attendance that not only was lockpicking fun and feasible, but also that it could be social. Mike Glasser was a speaker of such enthusiasm and sociability that he actually pulled me up on stage with him at an early DEF CON talk and encouraged me to pick some locks for the crowd as he talked.

That was it for me… after that I purchased any resources that I could (at the time, creatively fallacious letterhead and pretext stories accompanied many of my orders from supply catalogs) and learned as much as possible from picking locks at home. I created diagrams, animations and began to teach others. Presented on lockpicking at the very first ShmooCon conference and have returned each year along with more and more lockpickers joining me to keep teaching new people that wish to learn this fascinating and fun skill.

I must admit that, now that physical security is my main career focus, locks have lost something of their sparkle and fun for me. But I still pick recreationally when I can attend TOOOL meetings and still have the same joy that comes when one gets something open! :-)”

Q: Who were some of the people in the Locksport Community that you really looked up to or aspired to be as good as when you first started?

“The above story covers it pretty well… Barry and Laz were my first and biggest inspirations, followed soon after by Kai and Doc and other Colorado hackers who started showing hacker con attendees how lockpicking contests can be head-to-head as well as captivating for audiences. Schuyler Towne, datagram, and Scorche are some of the most charming individuals when they present about locks and lockpicking… I always wanted to be able to present with the charisma and passion that they display. (Other speakers who absolutely command a stage and know how to light up a room are Chris Nickerson, Johnny Long, Major Malfunction, Evan Booth, and Jason Scott—and I have always aspired to be a speaker like those folk.)”

Q: Some of our readers are curious as to what tools you have in your “go-to” pick set. Can you tell us in detail about what you carry in your kit?

“I blogged about it here and it ultimately boils down to this: lots of turning tools and a smattering of picks and wave rakes, augmented with some simple bypass equipment and useful whatnot. The latter includes: wafer lock jigglers, a traveler hook for loiding, mini knife/quick-stick thin implements for bypassing things like Master 175s or decoding other multi-wheel locks or shimming handcuffs, and a file and tweezers. Pre-cut aluminum can metal stock resides in my wallet (along with a comb pick and a Bogota set) as well.”

Q: One thing that sets you apart in my opinion from other Locksport Enthusiasts is your bypassing techniques and research. What are some of your favorite tools for bypassing and what is your thought process when inventing a new bypass?

“Hah, I just seem to keep answering your next question before you ask it, don’t I? 😀 Ever since the beginning, I have carried a traveler hook and relied on it heavily on penetration jobs. That, plus padlock shims and the frequent use of an under-door tool when required gets me into well over half of the spaces I first encounter when approaching a target.

When inventing a new tool (or, most typically, improving on an existing tool) the guiding principles should be: don’t re-invent the wheel and keep it simple. Often, if a need for a tool exists, someone else has already tried to build one. Find it, examine it, and improve it. If for some reason you have discovered a genuine gap in the market of ideas… for the love of all that is good in the world, don’t over-think it. Focus on building something quick and dirty and then refining it to the point that it’s cheap and reliable. I’ve seen FAR too many tools that were “cool” in a creative thinking fashion but wholly infeasible because they were far, far too expensive to produce or too fragile to use in the field or too complicated to transport and deploy. The simple solutions are the best solutions, hands-down.”

Q: What are some locks you are working on at the moment? Are there any locks that you just absolutely cannot open?

“There are a number of examples of outstanding mechanical locks for which, as we say in physical security consulting, there is no “publicly-known bypass or vulnerability that is feasibly exploitable in the field” … the Abloy Protec line of products is often our go-to lock system for high security needs. The magnetic code system, or MCS, by the Austrian company EVVA is remarkable against both attack and illicit key duplication. I think I’d enjoy putting together some progressively-built Schlage Primus cores in the coming months, seeing if I can learn to feel their sidebar pins, and learning to set them adequately. However, I have become much more interested lately in perfecting and honing my safe-manipulation skills. I have built out new course-ware for our training classes, and it’s been very well-received. I’ve always been the primary “safe guy” on the team, but now that’s being backed up by much more training, research, and dial time.”

Q: In your opinion Devian Ollam, how has the Locksport community changed over the years? Where would you like to see it go from here?

“More than anything else, the locksport world is impressing us with how new chapters and meetings are springing up without our direct guidance. I do not mean to claim that Babak or Schuyler or the Erics or I were instrumental in the creation of every TOOOL chapter or locksport meeting (although each of us were deeply involved in the founding of several) but for quite some time, “new” appearances of lockpicker groups would tend to be very tenuous and have multiple false starts until centralized efforts from parent organizations helped these interested parties connect with other locals, gather supplies, and raise funds. Like an incubator, TOOOL would shepherd small, disconnected groups of enthusiasts into flourishing and sustained meetings.

Now, however, locksport has become so recognized and the learning resources are so well available to those who wish, that new chapters and meetings are springing up almost fully-formed and healthy when they pop up. We have people contacting us about attending LockCon or LockFest saying things like “we’re the Lockpickers of San Antonio” or “we’re Cheyenne Locksport” and they’re curious if their 25+ routine members might one day be a part of TOOOL. We’re just blown away by that sort of thing.”

Q: Finally, what is your favorite beer to drink while picking locks?

“Anyone who’s seen videos of me online knows that I used to be a much bigger fellow. All that’s behind me now and I’m down 45 lbs and counting… all from cutting out carbs and sugar. With a heavy heart, that has impacted my beer consumption, driving it almost to zero. Every once in a blue moon I’ll have a Stella or Carlsberg pilsner with a burger when we’re all in the backyard. But for the most part, I’m 100% whisky these days. My go-to bourbons are Bulleit, Four Roses Single Barrel, and Basil Hayden’s. Default scotch choices for me are Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Aberlour, and Cragganmore. I have an easier time of finding those bourbons than those scotches when we’re out at bars. 😛 “

Books by Deviant Ollam:

Deviant Ollam: Practical Lock PickingDeviant Ollam: Keys to the KingdomDeviant Ollam: Practical Lock Picking